Tag Archives: Transit for Livable Communities

Deciders Need to Hear from Public Transit Advocates

“You can’t understand a city without using its public transportation system.”   ― Erol Ozan, author, professor, information technologist

Maybe that’s why the Minnesota Legislature, in spite of its generosity of spirit during the past session, de-railed much of the long-term dependable funding proposed for public transit.  Basically, those who support , plan for and depend on public transit are back to short-term planning with no permanent funding that would allow for cogent comprehensive planning.

Legislators could exit the marble halls, rush to their cars (conveniently parked and guarded at taxpayers’ expense), and speed with abandon past the 94 Express, LRT construction, even the bikers and weary bus riders.  Some probably dashed off to enjoy a respite in distant lands where public transit is funded and functioning.  With luck, they will have time to reflect and connect the dots.

They may return to wonder why the electorate does not relish the endless wait at the bus stop.  Jeff Wood, chief cartographer at Reconnecting America, a nonprofit that advocates for public transit, explains the cognitive dissonance: “Well, nobody uses transit, so why should we fund it?”

In its study of Public Transit 101, the think tank Remapping Debate makes the case that “companies understand that there is an initial period during which the hope of future consumer adoption means significant pre-adoption losses.”   In commuting terms, it is obvious that solo drivers of pricey vehicles are not easily moved to embrace public transit as a concept – and they are vehemently disinclined to adjust their modus operandi.

Bottom line, legislators are not pressured by their constituents on the public transit issue.

David Van Hattum of Transit for Livable Communities, this state’s most ardent advocate for public transit, observes that “you can’t expect transformational change without sort of setting up the conditions so that people readily see public transit as an alternative.”

The question then is:  what might entice a reluctant public, particularly the Deciders, to invest time, creative energy and taxes to build a viable – even irresistible – public transit system?  Graham Currie of Monash University cites the three key things that would make a transportation option attractive to riders, the ultimate deciders in a democracy:  “No 1: service frequency; No 2: service frequency.  And you will never guess what No. 3 is…”

True enough, but there are other issues.  One is the issue of routes, a particularly hot topic as the Twin Cities builds out the LRT network.  Bus routes are a significant factor in design and deployment of rapid transit routes.  For example, residents in inner-ring suburbs are left in the dust – or the snow bank –  as express busses speed to the outer ring where time and convenience matter more.

Then there is the issue of subsidies for public transit, as if these were  unique.   Thoughtful Deciders know full well that automobile dependence is totally formulated on an incredibly pricey infrastructure that includes not only publicly supported highway design and construction but constant maintenance and policing.   The infrastructure also involves private and public support including parking facilities and related conveniences for car-dependent customers.  Public dollars for public transit, which includes the vehicles, fuel, stops, stations, etc. are just more visible.

One factor the politicians and advocates don’t mention – the issue of Class or Cool, depending on one’s view.  Some people are just too important or too cool to join the working masses, the old folks, the little people who must or choose to depend on public transit.

Another, more remedial factor, is the issue of public transit “literacy.”  In spite of good efforts on the part of transit staffers, there’s the “end of the diving board” terror that faces every newbie rider.   The knowledge hurdles are a serious issue for people who are used to being omniscient – where does the LRT stop?  Which side do you exit?  What’s that green card that the regular riders sport?  What’s the fare and will the machine make change?   The list goes on and few neophytes want to show a busload of transit regulars that they are beyond their depth.  Little do they know that the regulars are eager to advise, inform, even provide change for the neophyte.

And there are other disincentives.  Piles of unshoveled snow, packed with sand, are an insurmountable barrier for transit regulars.  Empty cement slabs are grim reminders of a day when vus shelters and benches once offered safe respite for uevN transit customers.  Tolerance for rude and unacceptable behavior, even non-threatening aggravations such as ear-piercing phone calls and trash in the aisles, can be curbed.  Online trip planning sounds like a low cost tech solution till you try to get into the head of the system designers.

So, public transit advocates didn’t get the 1% annual increase for public transit, support for the LRT build-out or stable long-term funding.   What’s next?  First, the possibility to gain political muscle.  Concerned citizens can take heart in the Transit for Livable Communities study that concludes that 91% of Minnesotans polled support state investment in transit.

One opportunity to speak out is the public hearing on a Draft Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) set for Wednesday, June 19, 3:00 p.m. at Metropolitan Council Chambers, 309 North Robert Street in downtown St. Paul.

Another political ploy might be to invite a Decider to a guided tour on a bus or on the LRT.  Help him or her with the boarding and exit hurdles, then take a long leisurely ride, preferably at a slow time of day, so you can point out the political, economic, environmental and health virtues of public investment in a vital and viable public transit system – with particular mention of how adequate long-term funding, coupled with concern for the customers, could change the shape of public transit.



Sheldon Mains – Shameless Agitator Now on Wheels!

Those who have worked with Sheldon Mains – and most people have, it seems – know that, true to the title on his business card, Sheldon is an unabashed “shameless agitator.”  They also know that Sheldon defines “agitator” as one who works tirelessly to make his community – and the world at large – a better place.

Decades ago Sheldon marshaled his engineering background for the public good by promoting access to emerging information and communications technology.  Working with MAP for Nonprofits he turned his entrepreneurial bent to development of the circuit rider program which for the past fifteen years has continued to provide IT assistance to area nonprofits.  As usual, Sheldon was pre-peak.

Once elected to serve as a member of the Minneapolis Pubic Library Board Sheldon fought hard to preserve the city’s libraries with financial support and an independent elected governance structure.  More recently, Sheldon shared the vision of those who founded the Twin Cities Media Alliance and the Twin Cities Daily Planet.  At this writing, he continues to serve as chair of the TCMA Board.

If there is a geographic center to Sheldon’s ‘agitation,’ it is the Seward Neighborhood where he is a tireless volunteer.  He’s worked on everything from his unstinting efforts to turn around the finances of the neighborhood to promoting a wide array of neighborhood projects, all with an emphasis on community development and sustainability.

Last week Sheldon slowed his pace ever so slightly for a chance to meet at the Eastside Food Co-op in Northeast, a site selected because it’s the site of Recovery Bikes – the food co-op/bike shop environment set the tone for a rambling conversation.

Zeroing in on a moving target, Sheldon’s focus these days is on a very specific Seward initiative, a major effort to create a sustainable model for an ambitious program aptly named “SPOKES – Bike Walk Connect.” (officially that’s Seward People Operated Kinetic Energy, but don’t expect the full name to catch on.)   The launch of SPOKES marks an harmonic convergence of community organizations working in collaboration with a host of funders including a mix of contracts and direct support from organizations including the Non-Motorized Transportation Pilot Project of the Federal Highway Administration, MnDOT, the City of Minneapolis, and Bike Walk Twin Cities, a program of Transit for Livable Communities, with much support from countless local nonprofits.

Sheldon speaks of some of the roots of SPOKES, with special mention of the local promoters, Seward Café and DERO, a local bike equipment provider.  He also speaks of related predecessors and colleagues including Cycles of Change, a multi-purpose community project with a local site near University and Dale in St. Paul.

Sheldon lights up with enthusiasm about the ways in which the community at large has embraced biking and walking for health and the environment.  SPOKES rides a wave that’s buoyed by Nice RideBike Walk Twin Cities, and Transit for Livable Communities, all part of the scenario in which SPOKES plays a unique role.

The physical locus of SPOKES is its home at 1915 East 22nd Street, just one block off the LRT tracks and bike trail.  The demographics of the neighborhood are primarily East African and American Indian.   The target population for SPOKES is Somali and American Indian women and men, with special attention to youth.

The programs and presence of SPOKES are ubiquitous, embedded in the very fabric of the Seward community.  Sheldon envisions tangible components such as bike racks, free helmets and loaned bikes.  And there are and will be services, including a 24/7 bike repair service, classes on how to ride a bike, training on bike maintenance skills, an opportunity to earn a bike, “subscriptions: to Nice Ride”, and more

An overarching emphasis of the SPOKES program is the discipline of biking – the rules of the road, the importance of bike care and repair and etiquette. Above all, Sheldon underscores, the hallmark of SPOKES is a commitment to teaching others.

There will be a grand celebration of the launch of SPOKES, of course.  That involves rounding up all of the public, nonprofit and neighborhood organizations that have had a hand in the planning stages – a challenge in its own right.

Meanwhile, SPOKES is up and rolling rolling and the community is sharing the load.   Nice Ride provided free bike checkout for a first learn-to-ride class last week – fifteen East African men and women showed up to face the challenge.  During the month of July SPOKES will be the beneficiary of the SEED Project funding from Seward Coop customers. And Sheldon is promoting a “Used Bike Drive” scheduled for late July.

For just a moment, Sheldon beams as he  ruminates on the future of SPOKES and his beloved Seward community.  While others might take a breath to rest on their laurels, Sheldon shamelessly ponders his next agitation for the public good.

Windom Park Report – Area Forums on Transit Issues

Whether it’s simple misinformation, rumor or pernicious untruth the myth persists that public investment in transit means support for public transit. According to Transit for Livable Communities, the alternative transit advocacy group, the fact is that “local property taxes make up 40% of the cost of road funding in Minnesota.” TLC further reports that “gas taxes, (the funding source most calibrated to the amount someone actually uses the roads) make up 23% of road funding.

TCL plays an essential role in Minnesota’s efforts to understand transit as a comprehensive issue involving not only roads but public transit (buses, LRT, trains), bicycling, and walking. The website also offers links to a wealth of research and media coverage of transit related issues at the local, regional and national levels.

There are avid users of public transit, those who go so far as to consider their transit options, and many who wish demon drivers would avail themselves of the bus, LRT, bike and walking paths. These and others who care about transit planning will do well to check the state budget to see where state funding really goes – and who decides.

On Tuesday, February 15, Governor Dayton will unveil his budget which will start a host of TLC sponsored information and discussion forums:

• The next day, February 16, TLC will sponsor a session at the State Capitol at which legislative leaders will offer their perspectives on the budget and their own transit expectations. That session is 10:00-11:45 AM in Room 112 at the State Capitol.

• On February 23 TLC will be in South Minneapolis 7:00-8:30 p.m at St. Joan of Arc Hospitality Hall, 4537 Third Avenue South, Minneapolis 55419. St. Joan of Arc Catholic parish is located in South Minneapolis on 46th Street 1 block east of 35W. Enter the building by walking across the parking lot from the 3rd Avenue side. SJA is served by bus routes 46 and 11. In addition, express routes 156X, 535, 578, 579, and 597 serve the I35W and 46th St. station (check Metro Transit for times). Bike and vehicle parking available onsite.

• For Northeast Minneapolis residents Roseville may be more convenient. The session is March 7, 7:00-8:30 p.m. at the Roseville Library, 2180 North Hamline, Roseville, MN 55113. The Roseville Library is located at the intersection of Hamline and County Road B and is served by bus route 65. Bicycle and vehicle parking are available outside.

This and additional information including registration and maps is on the TLC Calendar or in the Capitol Line, an e-letter issued by TLC every two weeks during the session. Follow the newsletter on Facebook or Twitter or subscribe for email delivery by contacting TLC.

Drive, bike, bus, walk, snowshoe or slip and slide to a discussion near you.

Parade of Community Gardens

Whether you prefer begonias or broccoli, petunias or peas, roses or radishes , an ornamental, native, even a therapeutic garden, there’s something for you at the 5th Annual Parade of Community Gardens sponsored by the nonprofit organization Gardening Matters. “Community gardening isn’t just about growing vegetables and flowers.  It’s about growing community, both in and around the garden space,” says Margaret Shields, Communications Intern at Gardening Matters. “The Parade of Community Gardens presents the opportunity to connect the garden to the neighborhood and the neighborhood to the garden.”

To celebrate the riches of this community’s gardens, walk or bike to as many of the 66 participating gardens you can visit during the four-hour parade that stretches throughout the metro area from 10:00 a.m. till 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, August 21.

Gardening Matters has produced a Parade Guide that is loaded with details about the featured gardens.  There’s a great map divided by neighborhood.  Each entry has a brief description of the garden and the gardeners responsible.  The Parade is on rain or shine with backup plans in case of severe weather.  Everything is free and open to all gardeners, admirers and green thumb wannabes.

In addition to the Parade Guide, Gardening Matters offers a wealth of related information and communications and education tools.  “The mission of Gardening Matters is to connect gardeners with each other, with their communities and with the tools they need to ensure the long-term success of their community garden,” says Shields.  There’s an online garden directory, a virtual library of resources about gardening and more, a listserv to connect with community gardeners, monthly learning networks, a workshop on how to start a community garden and regular email and newsletters.

Look for Community Gardens on Parade throughout the cities – places of worship, parks, railroad land, senior centers, schools, businesses and vacant lots.  No matter who owns the land, “gardens, neighbors and novices are all encouraged to come out and celebrate the Parade of Community Gardens and feel the sense of pride and shared ownership in these important community spaces,” says Shields.

When you visit Gardens on Parade, ask the community gardeners on hand about their reasons for participating.  Some want to improve the neighborhood and enhance the involvement of neighbors.  Others see community gardening as a pleasant and productive road to health.  An increasing number find that one answer to the rising cost of groceries, coupled with today’s focus on nutrition, inspire them to dig, prune, weed – now pick and enjoy – their own produce.

Don’t forget your camera on Saturday.  There’s a Community Garden Photo Contest sponsored by  Bike Walk Twin Cities (BWTC), an initiative of Transit for Livable Communities.  Sponsors encourage you to submit photos of you, your shoes, your bike, your family and friends enjoying the Parade and touring the gardens.  Deadline for photo submission if Friday, August 27th.  Winners will be drawn on Monday, August 30th.  Prizes include a Burley Travoy, a NiceRide MN subscription, t-shirts, reflective arm/leg bands, and a bike light set.

BWTC also created special walking and biking routes for select self-guided tours to gardens on the Parade.  So, put on your comfort shoes, slather on the sunscreen and bug spray, then head out to walk or bike to meet your neighborhood community gardeners at as many of the 66 participating gardens you can visit during the Parade.

Check it all out online or call Gardening Matters at 612 821 2358.

And have a glorious ride or walk through your neighborhood – or learn about another community – by joining the Parade of Community Gardens next weekend.